This weekend I went to visit a fellow volunteer at her site in Bitola. It is a much bigger city than mine, and more than that, it is solidly Macedonian, even though it’s not very far from Greece. It was decked out for Christmas (which is celebrated on the 7th of January, as this is an Orthodox country) and I only heard Macedonian. I am still studying both, but my Albanian is stronger by a mile. I really enjoyed my time there. I stayed in my training city, which is a blessing in many ways: there’s no new readjustment period and I know my way around pretty well. On the other hand getting to know a new place might have been interesting. Also, I’m the only volunteer in my city proper (there’s one about 40 minutes away) so it does get lonely sometimes.
I also visited Tetovo to meet with my Albanian tutor. As the holidays stretch out before me (work does not begin until the 21st of January) I know I will have to fill my days with things to do. Breaks were much shorter and busier in America, so having more time to myself is much nicer but challenging. I am hoping for more winter weather and the opportunity to travel with my extended host family.
I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions because I feel guilty about not keeping up with them, but obviously there are goals in mind. I hope to become better in Albanian (and try to improve my Macedonian); I want to set up new programmes and clubs at the school where I work; I would like to do some travelling around the Balkans and southern Europe. I’m also thinking about the future (it’s so far, I know) but I’ve already started researching PhD programmes and future work possibilities. I don’t like blank spots, I guess you could say.
If I had to use one word to describe these past 72 hours, I would use “overwhelmed”. There is no describing the intensity of 56 people trying to get through security at JFK and onto a plane filled with confused non Peace Corps people. Nothing will describe the bleary morning arrival of those same people to the N Macedonian airport (aerodrom). Nothing will describe the first meal, the first heavy rain, the first nervous classes. We have already made friends and learnt so much about ourselves.
As it’s only been about three days since my arrival in N Macedonia, I can only talk about my first impressions. We are in the west, and the mountains here are breath-taking. We counted minarets on the way from the airport to our orientation site, and marvelled at the strangely empty detached houses along the way, musing on why they looked so new and yet were so empty. There were men selling grapes fresh from the vineyards in boxes along the motorway, and piles of rubbish were on fire as we passed.
So far, we have seen one street of our orientation site city, and I have been twice to go for tiny shops in the grocery store. We have been visited by two cats and a very loyal and dirty white dog who was baptised newly as Mochi by some trainees. I have never visited the Balkans, so the buildings feel familiar but strange at the same time.
Other observations: Remembering to throw toilet paper into the bin is tricky but I think I have perfected it. The Cyrillic alphabet is not difficult but I am struggling with it. I’m not struggling with speaking though, if I may brag. I am slightly confused on how phone service works here, even though I have a new N Macedonian number. I have only had black tea with milk once since I’ve been here, and I am missing it badly. I think I have already lost my sunglasses, which is a shame.
I am always surprised about the mundane nature of our first observations, but then I suppose we are trying to cling to some normalcy and will doing anything to keep our mind clear. Everything is different, but nothing really is, honestly. We still have to sleep and eat and learn, just in a different country. I think everything will be fine.
photo by author